Tag Archives: sotd

The Help (2011) – Thomas Newman

I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.

Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.

Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotionalEach track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.

I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Aibilene”      3:07
2. “Them Fools”      2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake”      1:22
4. “Mississippi”      3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations”      1:43
6. “The Help”     2:18
7. “Jim Crow”      1:45
8. “Skeeter”      1:03
9. “Miss Hilly”      1:13
10. “Write That Down”      1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List”      3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs”      2:03
13. “First White Baby”      2:00
14. “Celia Digs”      2:06
15. “November 22”      1:11
16. “Not To Die”      1:28
17. “My Son”      2:50
18. “Trash On The Road”      1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful”      2:56
20. “Constantine”      4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials”      1:32
22. “Sugar”      1:49
23. “Amen”      3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue”      2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)”      6:29

Total Length: app. 60 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Alan Silvestri

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, directed by Robert Zemeckis (my favorite film director), has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it as a child several years ago. A technical breakthrough as well as a critical success, the score by regular Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri also ranks among my favorites.

Since the film takes place in the year 1947, Silvestri was faced with the challenge of composing music that fit well with the period. He succeeds beautifully, delivering laid-back tracks such as “Valiant & Valiant” and “Eddie’s Theme”. He also manages to capture the sort of fun and wackiness found in the classic cartoons of the period, such as the Tom & Jerry cartoons of the early ’40s. This wackiness can be heard in the tracks “Maroon Cartoon”, and “Toontown”, as well as in a few other spots throughout the score.

Perhaps the most appealing part of Silvestri’s score is the smooth jazziness of it, which, for me, feels typical of the classic film noir genre, a category that the movie (roughly) falls into.

However, the score for Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not without its faults. My main complaint is that there are chunks here and there that are hugely reminiscent of Silvestri’s earlier score to Back to the Future, another Zemeckis film (and my personal favorite). The similarities between these two film scores are particularly evident in the more suspenseful moments. The themes, obviously, are completely different, but it is in these moments when Silvestri is illustrating the unfortunate predicaments of the characters onscreen that it becomes harder to distinguish the two.

Despite its faults, Alan Silvestri’s score to Who Framed Roger Rabbit is hugely fun, whimsical, and relaxing at times, with one of the best “End Credits” tracks out there. Silvestri is a wonderful composer who succeeds in drawing his audience further into the world of the movie.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Maroon Logo” 0:192. “Maroon Cartoon” 3:25

3. “Valiant & Valiant” 4:22

4. “The Weasels” 2:08

5. “Hungarian Rhapsody (Dueling Pianos)” Tony Anselmo, Mel Blanc 1:53

6. “Judge Doom” 3:47

7. “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Amy Irving, Charles Fleischer 3:07

8. “No Justice for Toons” 2:45

9. “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (Roger’s Song)” Fleischer 0:47

10. “Jessica’s Theme” 2:03

11. “Toontown” 1:57

12. “Eddie’s Theme” 5:22

13. “The Gag Factory” 3:48

14. “The Will” 1:10

15. “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!/That’s All Folks” Toon Chorus 1:17

16. “End Title (Who Framed Roger Rabbit)” 4:56

Total Length: app. 47 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – John Powell

2010 was a good year for animated movies, bringing usToy Story 3Tangled, and Despicable MeHow to Train Your Dragon was also released in 2010 and featured an incredible instrumental score by composer John Powell, who was relatively unknown to me at that time.

The score of How to Train Your Dragon has a very Celtic feel to it to tie in with the Viking characters, with lots of bagpipes, fiddle, and even some harpsichord. There are parts that have an almost swashbuckling kind of sound to them, like in the track “Focus, Hiccup!”

The real appeal of the score to HTTYD is the sheer number of memorable tracks, with my favorites being “This is Berk”, “Forbidden Friendship”, “See You Tomorrow”, “Test Drive”, “Romantic Flight”, “Coming Back Around”, and “The Vikings Have Their Tea”. “Romantic Flight” features one of the most beautiful themes I’ve ever heard in a movie, while “Test Drive” is just incredibly fun.

Overall, John Powell’s score to How to Train Your Dragon presents everything you could want in a movie score and has quickly climbed to my list of favorites. I have very little (if anything) to complain about with this score.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “This Is Berk” 4:10

2. “Dragon Battle” 1:54

3. “The Downed Dragon” 4:16

4. “Dragon Training” 3:10

5. “Wounded” 1:25

6. “The Dragon Book” 2:22

7. “Focus, Hiccup!” 2:05

8. “Forbidden Friendship” 4:10

9. “New Tail” 2:47

10. “See You Tomorrow” 3:53

11. “Test Drive” 2:36

12. “Not So Fireproof” 1:12

13. “This Time For Sure” 0:43

14. “Astrid Goes For A Spin” 0:43

15. “Romantic Flight” 1:56

16. “Dragon’s Den” 2:29

17. “The Cove” 1:10

18. “The Kill Ring” 4:28

19. “Ready The Ships” 5:13

20. “Battling The Green Death” 6:18

21. “Counter Attack” 3:05

22. “Where’s Hiccup?” 2:43

23. “Coming Back Around” 2:51

24. “Sticks & Stones” (Written and performed by Jónsi) 4:17

25. “The Vikings Have Their Tea” 2:03

Total Length: app. 72 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Cars (2006) – Randy Newman

The score to the Disney/Pixar film Cars was composed by Randy Newman, who was also responsible for the scores to all three Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, andMonsters, Inc. However, like most of Pixar’s film soundtracks, there are a few songs in the track list that are lyrical.

In the case of Cars, nearly half (9 out of 20) of the tracks are vocal songs, and 4 of those were written specifically for the film. I’ll briefly walk through each of these 9 tracks before getting to the actual “score”.

The first track on the album is “Real Gone” by Sheryl Crow. This is one of the songs that was written for the film. This song, aside from just being lots of fun and making references to cars, has lyrics that fit Lightning McQueen’s character at the start of the film: “you got your blinders on”, referencing the things placed to side of a horse’s eyes so that it can only see straight ahead, refers to McQueen’s love for nothing but himself and his career.

Next is Chuck Berry’s “Route 66”, which is on the album for obvious reasons that I hope I don’t have to explain. John Mayer has another decent version of this song available on the album.

Rascall Flatts’ version of Tom Cochrane’s 1991 hit “Life is a Highway” is also included on the album for obvious reasons, but it also has a set of lyrics that fit in well with the themes of the film, found in the bridge:

“There was a distance between you and I

A misunderstanding once

But now, we look it in the eye.”

This chunk of lyric could fit either Lightning’s relationship with Sally, which grows from a mutual annoyance to a blossoming romance, or with Doc, which starts with a lack of communication/understanding but becomes a strong teacher/student or father/son relationship.

Brad Paisley wrote two songs for Cars the first of which is titled “Behind the Clouds”. The lyrics in this song talk about the silver lining that can be found in situations that appear bleak at first, i.e. Lightning getting lost and trapped in a near-ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Which turns out to be a blessing! Yay for songs that fit the story!

The third song on the soundtrack that was written for the film is titled “Our Town”, composed by Randy Newman and performed by James Taylor. This song, a Grammy winner and Academy Award nominee, reveals one of the morals of the film: what you have is only what you make of it, and no one can take it away from you. An awesome message, and one of the reasons why I love Pixar (even if Cars is far from my favorite).

“Sh-Boom”, a 1954 song by The Chords, is played during the scene where McQueen and the citizens of Radiator Springs restore the city to look the way it did in its heyday as a surprise for Sally. I wasn’t alive back then, but this song just seems to define the 50s for me. It’s relaxed and fun and perfect for this scene in the film.

The final lyrical song written for the film is another by Brad Paisley, this one titled “Find Yourself”. (On a quick side note, I now have Cars to thank for the presence of country music on my iPhone! Who’da thought it’d ever happen?!) This song, like “Our Town” is particularly poignant because it talks about how, though we may lose our ways in life sometimes, it’s at those times that we’re lost that we often discover who we really are and what we really want, as Lightning does in the film.

The final lyrical song included on the soundtrack album is Hank Williams’ “My Heart Would Know”, which, as far as I can tell, has no lyrical connection to the story, merely serving the purpose of establishing the setting/context/feel of the film.

And now we (finally) move on the the actual film score by Randy Newman. Unfortunately, Randy’s film scores are often like Hans Zimmer’s and Danny Elfman’s in the sense they sound the same a lot of the time (certainly not Randy’s themes, just his background music usually), and the first two instrumental tracks, “Opening Race” and “McQueen’s Lost”, do nothing to prove that theory wrong. “Opening Race” reminds me of some bits from Toy Story, while “McQueen’s Lost” has an entire 7-second section of music that almost sounds exactly like a theme from A Bug’s Life. (go to YouTube and compare :37-:44 of “McQueen’s Lost” to :34-:40 of “The Bird Flies”)

Luckily, Randy completely switches gears in the next track, “Bessie”, which suddenly turns into what could easily be mistaken for the intro to a country/western song. Thank you, Randy! Although there were hints of Toy Story again in the next track, “Dirt is Different”, and in a couple of other tracks later on, Randy sticks to a Western-feel, occasionally bluegrass-y, that is for the most part refreshing and different coming from him.

I don’t want to go into too much (more) detail, so I’ll sum it up.

Overall, while a bit familiar, the country feel to Cars’ instrumental score, in addition to the excellent vocal tracks that accompany it, makes this a better soundtrack than I initially expected. My favorite track is “McQueen and Sally”.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

1. “Real Gone” Sheryl Crow 3:22

2. “Route 66” Chuck Berry 2:52

3. “Life Is a Highway” Rascal Flatts 4:37

4. “Behind the Clouds” Brad Paisley 4:09

5. “Our Town” James Taylor 4:07

6. “Sh-Boom” The Chords 2:26

7. “Route 66” John Mayer 3:25

8. “Find Yourself” Brad Paisley 4:11

9. “Opening Race” 2:05

10. “McQueen’s Lost” 2:29

11. “My Heart Would Know” Hank Williams 2:27

12. “Bessie” 0:59

13. “Dirt Is Different” 1:28

14. “New Road” 1:17

15. “Tractor Tipping” 1:22

16. “McQueen & Sally” 2:00

17. “Goodbye” 2:42

18. “Pre-Race Pageantry” 1:31

19. “The Piston Cup” 1:52

20. “The Big Race” 3:07

Total Length: app. 53 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman

After listening through Danny Elfman’s score to Spider-Man (2002) yesterday, I checked out his score toSpider-Man 2 (2004) today. Again, this is in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Spider-Man reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, and Emma Stone.

I didn’t really have any expectations for Elfman’s sequel soundtrack, so I went into listening through it with a fairly open mind. I’m wrapping up my second listen-through as I type; I’m pretty unimpressed.

That’s not to say that I didn’t really enjoy it, though. It just fell victim to the Danny Elfman/Hans Zimmer Effect: it sounds the same as the first. The Main Title, as exciting in the second film’s score as it was in the first’s, is overused throughout, and much of the music seems to be a basic rehash of what was done in the first film’s score. I didn’t feel like I was listening to a different soundtrack like I should have.

That being said, Elfman managed to compose a couple of tracks that stand out as being pretty fantastic. “Doc Ock Is Born” introduces a theme for arguably the best Spider-Man villain, a theme that is used again multiple times throughout the film. “At Long Last, Love”, is a pleasant mix of emotion and themes from the first film – a moment that is appropriate for the main theme to be used. Despite the overuse of the main theme, Spider-Man 2’s score manages to improve just a bit on the first film’s score.

Overall, as enjoyable and fun as Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man 2 score is, it isn’t much different than his score for the first Spider-Man film, with a couple of exception tracks. However, it IS better-composed than the first film’s score, so bonus points for that. If you’re debating on buying it, take a listen to the tracks on YouTube or Spotify first and decide whether it’s different enough for you.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  1. “Spider-Man 2 (Main Title)” 3:21
  2. “M.J.’s New Life/Spidus Interruptus” 2:31
  3. “Doc Ock Is Born” 2:23
  4. “Angry Arms/Rebuilding” 2:51
  5. “A Phone Call/The Wrong Kiss/Peter’s Birthday” 2:06
  6. “The Mugging/Peter’s Turmoil” 3:21
  7. “The Bank/Saving May” 4:27
  8. “He’s Back!” 1:50
  9. “Doc Ock’s Machine” 1:42
  10. “Train/Appreciation” 6:16
  11. “Aunt May Packs” 2:51
  12. “Armageddon/A Really Big Web!” 6:28
  13. “The Goblin Returns” 1:36
  14. “At Long Last, Love” 2:59
  15. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” – Performed by B. J. Thomas 3:14

Total Length: app. 48 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad